Here’s a menacing creature, tightly wearing its dark tailored suit, and ready to push lesser creatures out of the way on looks alone. Finally, a colonnade GM body had crossed my paths, and in Pontiac version nonetheless. Its controversial styling was there to be captured by yours truly, in all its glory under San Salvador’s unrelenting sun. Windows were down, doors were open. No one was nearby. It seemed too easy. Was there a trap of some sort?
Those who have read previous posts of mine, know that I’ve gone through just about every kind of situation with my ‘finds.’ In some, street guards have sternly warned me to stay away. In others, owners have offered me ‘sweet deals’ in their soon-to-be-valuable junked possessions. A few have chewed my ears off, by retelling not only their car’s backstory, but also details of their first communion, family quarrels, and all kinds of other useless personal minutiae. You know, it’s Latin America. A casual meet is a chance to become amigos.
And on this occasion, here was this Pontiac, windows open, in a residential street with plenty of movement. And this is not a safe city. Yet, no one was around. What was the deal? Did the car belong to some John-Wick-type and all agreed no one was to approach it?
Something was off with this encounter. But it was too tempting to resist.
Not only was the scenario wrong, but the car itself also looked menacing; with the shape, color, and detailing of some dangerous creature. For starters, it’s a 1973 Pontiac LeMans Sport Coupe, the first year of the A-Body colonnades. This particular Sport Coupe came with a 350 V-8 engine, carrying 175HP and 280 lb-ft of torque; and could go from 0-60 in 9.5 sec. A pretty good performer in the early ’70s. And in regards to handling, as it’s been mentioned previously at CC, the colonnades were Detroit’s finest.
Let’s take a look inside. The floor shifter makes me think this Sport Coupe was sold locally back in the day. Automatics were a no-go over here for the longest time, and it wasn’t until the last decade that they were reluctantly accepted. If you wonder if this is a 3 or 4-speed manual, I’ve no way to help you. There’s no indication whatsoever on the shifter, or anywhere else in the car.
Besides the nifty manual, the image also shows the GM cost-cutting plastics of the period. Yes, it’s an old car, but I’ve never seen plastics degrade in such a way in anything but a GM product. Finally, for those with keen eyes, you’ll notice the back seats have been removed. Which is just as fine on a colonnade. Why pretend to be a 4-seater when this baby is really about the front occupants?
And the louvers? These are either the coolest invention in automotivedom, or an annoying useless gimmick. Dismiss them you may, but these gimmicky bits became rather influential, as some overstyled ’70s Datsuns prove.
The colonnades have appeared at CC quite numerous times, with the ’73 LeMans making at least one previous appearance. In general, the colonnade is one of GM’s most polarizing designs. Are they extroverted and somewhat overdone? Yes. And the LeMans Sport Coupe makes those points all too clearly. And in the practical sense, are the colonnades somewhat absurd and impractical? Absolutely. Lots of sheet metal to carry two adults in comfort, with many penalties in the back. All part of 1970s trends. But in retrospect, it was almost inevitable that such cars would eventually happen.
When GM started with yearly updates back in the day, it was clear that fashion was going to be the company’s calling car. Buyers would wait for the new automotive season, expectant of the new wardrobes sheetmetals that would debut. Anyone fashioned streaks? Pontiac was the one for you then.
Conservatively engineered and nicely tailored were the tools that sent GM to number 1, and the company found in Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell an outstanding team of suit makers.
And the best tailored for a while was Pontiac, enjoying some of Bill Mitchell’s finest work. Any Joe Schmoe looked like money at the wheel of a Mitchell-styled 1960s Pontiac.
Now, the trouble with fashion as your sales tool is that sooner or later, it turns into an exercise on its own. And it was inevitable that at some point we would all become fashion victims. Low, longer, and wider was a pretty cool concept, but humans have -you know- a certain height. The mantra had a natural and unavoidable limit.
And the colonnades were definitely a fashion statement, perhaps to the point of being victims of it. Not that being a fashion victim is that bad a thing. We’ve all gone through some questionable periods in our youth, and even some pain and discomfort to look ‘cool.’ Fashion in the automotive world? Who wasn’t for it?
The colonnades were conceived in the late ’60s, as a previous post at CC detailed. Now, by that time Mitchell and team were breaking away from the clean flanks they had tailored in the early ’60s; and sculpting was coming back with a vengeance. Also, like much of the rest of Detroit, GM’s studios took inspiration from themes that harkened back to the ’30s and ’40s. Of course, stretched, lowered, and widened for the ’70s.
The ’73 colonnades were the result of these explorations, and in the LeMans they show in earnest; the pronounced sculpted fenders, the sloping trunk, and the bulging sides. It was perhaps too much, and even Mitchell has been quoted as saying that Pontiac’s colonnade ‘looked like a Tucker,’ which no one thought was a compliment. In the real world, dealers complained the model didn’t seem to have a trunk, amongst other quibbles. Soon enough, the colonnades would turn more generic in later iterations.
Parallel to the auto world, there was some fascination with the ’30s and ’40s in mainstream media. The Front Page and The Sting, were amongst many films set in that classic era, retelling the period to new audiences. Then, films like The Godfather, Chinatown, and Cabaret explored the good ol’ ’30s and ’40s, but with their dark underbelly exposed, perfectly fitting the mood of the ’70s.
Fashions come and go, and if in the ’60s Pontiac had been GM’s Golden Boy, by ’73 the brand was falling out of favor. In ’74 Oldsmobile would surpass it in sales, and Pontiac would never really recover. Yet, this ’73 Sport Coupe still carries some of the coolness the brand once exuded.
With this CC I fulfill a pending goal of mine; to find an old Pontiac. In old San Salvador images, Pontiacs appear sporadically and I knew for a fact, they were sold for a number of years. Yet, none seemed to survive. And I mean to say, I wanted to find a REAL Pontiac. Not some putrid Matrix-derived Vibe, of which there are quite a few.
Finally, as luck would have it, this LeMans Sport Coupe appeared. And there must have been some kind of blessing, because for once I took the shots, no one approached me, and I left as if nothing. No John-Wick-like dude came to pound me into oblivion.
Of course, the ultimate fashion victim was Pontiac itself, which couldn’t keep up with the changing times. I won’t deny it, the death of Pontiac kinda hit me in 2008. Then again, if there’s one thing that is certain in this modern world, is that everything is a fad. We may yearn for permanence, but in the eyes of the market and media, all is short-lived and disposable.
Kind of odd for me to worry, in ’08, about a brand that had for years only released underwhelming products under the “We Build Excitement” banner. But still, the fashion runway Pontiac put on in the ’60s left indelible marks, and most of its legacy resides in those few years. It’s more than can be said of many other brands. In the end, this colonnade may provoke admiration or disdain, but one can’t deny that it carries a lot of fashion and Pontiacness in its forms and execution.